By Cynthia Metzger Phipps
FORT LAUDERDALE, FL –- The fight against racism is “a marathon, not a sprint,” and halting progress is being made, Rev. Dr. Sharon Austin told those attending the Juneteenth Celebration at St. John United Methodist Church on Saturday, June 18.
“You say freedom. We say not yet,” Austin repeated throughout her message. “We’re not there yet.”
Austin recounted “the cauldron of the Juneteenth celebration” — the lives disrupted and devastated by the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the building of wealth advantages on the labor of enslaved people, the delayed joy of freedom for enslaved people in Texas and some northern states, a short period of
Reconstruction, the lengthy oppression of the Jim Crow era, and the continuing fight for Civil Rights.
“Look around [Broward County] and you will see symptoms of the struggle continue, a struggle exacerbated but not caused by Covid,” she said. “The inequities existed pre-Covid. They have just come into the marvelous light”
Even so, “In so many places, there has been unmistakable progress,” she said. “I want you to be encouraged because we are not in this alone.”
“I look out on this audience, and I see young and old, I see wonderful diversity across the lines of faith and community and race and gender, and I celebrate that we are not alone. We are all in it together.”
Austin is the director of Connectional and Justice ministries for the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church. She was recently affirmed as the state’s candidate for bishop within the denomination.
St. John United Methodist Church, 1520 N.W. Fifth St., hosted the Juneteenth celebration in collaboration with Christ Church United Methodist, 4845 N.E. 25th Ave. Pastors and musicians from both churches, as well as Southeast District Super-intendent Cynthia Weems, participated in the service.
Among the musical groups were the St. John Youth Choir and the St. John Youth Praise Dancers. There was a poetry recitation involving elementary, middle, and high school students.
Matthew “Bud” Walters and Ellyn Ferguson Walters were awarded the Sylvia Alridge Legacy Award for their contributions to life in the Black community, which enriched all of Broward County. This dynamic couple was committed to strengthening their community in their lifetimes and building a foundation for the future, as was Sylvia Alridge, the namesake of this award.
Bud Walters operated Bud’s Shoe Shop in the heart of Fort Lauderdale’s Black business community for 40 years. He was one of the first Black cobblers in Broward County and became a successful entrepreneur. His shop was a gathering space for people who needed help; he would fix shoes for free and give money to families in need.
Mr. Walters was known as a shrewd businessman who treated everyone with respect. He was honored with the Black Pioneer Award by the Urban League in 1989. He was an active member of Mount Herman AME Church for 50 years. Mr. Walters passed away in 1991, at the age of 73.
Ellyn Ferguson Walters graduated from Dillard High School and Florida A&M University, preparing her for a 41-year career as a Fort Lauderdale elementary school educator. She married Mr. Walters in 1951.
As executive chair of the African American Research Library and Cultural Center’s Community Fundraising Committee, she raised more than $700,000 for construction of the facility. In 1999 the Urban League of Broward County recognized Mrs. Walters with the Kathleen C. Wright Award for her role as president of the Friends of the Library for the Von D. Mizell branch and the AARLCC for 21 years, as well as for her work as a founder of the Sistrunk Festival. Mrs. Walters was active in many community organizations, including St. John United Methodist Church where she was a servant leader for more than 60 years. She passed away in 2012 at age 85.
On Saturday, the City of Fort Lauderdale named June 18, 2022, at Matthew “Bud” and Ellyn Ferguson Walters Day, as did State Senator Rosalind Osgood for the State of Florida.
Dwight Thompson II and Cameron Keeves, great grandnephews of Mr. And Mrs. Walters, read biographies of the honorees.
Matthew J. Walters II accepted the award and the proclamations in honor of his parents. Many members of the Walters family attended the service.